Whether you are optimistic or pessimistic about AI, it is changing our lives and the ways humans interact with the world and with each other. Along the customer experience journey, from pre-purchase, to purchase, and post-purchase, AI is increasingly playing a role at almost all the touchpoints.
The following is an illustration of a typical consumer’s interactions with AI and humans on a buying journey for a washing machine.
1). This is the initial “shopping around” phase where a customer seeks information about a washing machine. She can either do a Google search, get a few brands of washing machines, OR, let AI aid the research by using ChatGPT with a question like “recommend a washing machine under $1,500 from reliable brands”. ChatGPT is a lot faster. This is the first interaction or touchpoint with AI.
2). The next touchpoints include self-service actions such as visiting websites, checking reviews, comparing prices, comparing functionalities among different brands of washing machines recommended by ChatGPT as reliable: LG, Samsung, Whirlpool, Maytag, Bosch. Let’s say this consumer narrows down her choices to LG and Samsung, but she has questions about two specific models under each brand. She uses chatbots on their websites to ask questions. She hardly finishes typing her questions, AI generated answers instantaneously pop up, and with links to articles in case she needs more information. This is the second interaction or touchpoint with AI.
3). Assuming that she’d rather talk to a live agent than reading AI-generated answers and articles, or if the generic answers provided by chatbots do not answer her specific questions, she calls LG and Samsung customer support contact centers. After she dials the contact center phone number, the IVR (interactive voice response) asks her if her questions are related to billing, product features, returns, … and she says: “product features”. Next, she is asked if the product is appliances, TVs, or whatever, she says: “appliances”. And next: “what appliance? Refrigerator, washer and dryer, …” This is the third interaction with AI? Very soon, AI can read her mind before she speaks a word. The IVR will know her, after she enters her phone number and sees her earlier chatbot interaction, and would ask: “Is this regarding your interest in our washers?”
4). She finally gets a live agent on the phone in the washer and dryer space, but only after hearing: “For training purposes, your call will be recorded”. — AI is gathering data from her conversation with a call center agent. This is the fourth interaction with AI. (A human supervisor can coach an agent with the recorded conversation as well.)
5). You may think that at last, there is a human touch after an agent announces him/herself on the phone: “how may I help you?” But unbeknown to this customer, AI in the background monitors the callers sentiment and is also providing “agent assist” — providing the agent with all kinds of answers derived from prior customers’ calls with similar questions. In no time, AI will know so much more than any human agent that it will become an agent, and surpass any agent, no longer just an “agent assist”. It is not a matter of if or when, it is already happening. This fifth interaction is with both AI and a human agent.
1). Let’s say that the customer decides to buy an LG washer, after talking to a human agent (and the hidden AI “agent assist”), she inputs her credit card numbers, her emails and delivery address, — information that feeds the AI database about her demography, financial status, payment habit, etc.
2). Then AI prompts her to buy insurance or additional warranty for the washer. Her decision and behavior as well as all the above interactions are added to her individual consumer profile, to feed an AI database which aggregates her prior purchasing information and updates her profile of buying habits, payment preferences, tastes, lifestyle, etc.
3). Next, AI suggests that she buy a related product such as a particular brand of detergent, or unrelated products or services, based on her consumer profile and history. This is “cross-selling”.
4). Or AI may upsell a “better” LG model that may cost more but fits her lifestyle and preferences. All these take place seamlessly, like a stream of consciousness, in real time.
5). After payment is completed, AI asks her to rate her experience at all the above touchpoints – more data for AI, so AI can eventually improve on its own, at a speed and a scale unimaginable and unattainable by humans.
It is foreseeable that the current automated “thank you” email or product feedback surveys after the washer is delivered and installed will soon be upgraded to real-time interaction between AI and the customer, about any post-purchase issues and a loyalty program. IOT and internet enabled devices provide real time usage data and user activity, prompting AI driven service appointments, and even problem solves OR predicts any friction along a customer journey, without a live agent.
This is not just a philosophical question, but a current, realistic, and practical question. It is the direction CX support services are heading now, as the AI tidal wave (if not a tsunami) is hitting the shore in the next one to three years, and a lot of the traditional roles of contact center agents will be eliminated.
ApexCX believes that the apex of customer experience is human centered, with human touch — a human-to-human social, psychological, and emotional experience.
After AI frees company’s agents from mundane routines, cuts CX cost, and increases CX efficiency… human agents and B2C companies can use their knowledge and creativity to achieve a higher level of human interaction. Therefore, AI elevates the quality of customer experience, from customer satisfaction to customer delight, from delivering the needs today to predicting the needs tomorrow.
For the truly proactive and human centered B2C companies, it is foreseeable that their contact center human agents’ roles won’t be limited to the traditional Q&As, since AI will address most of that. Live agents’ interactions with customers will include, but not be limited to, building customer relations and deepening customer bond and loyalty. Human agents, with human EQ, can listen deeper to customer’s needs and wants through spontaneous HUMAN conversations. They can also contribute ideas to design and redesign the customer experience, products and services, in collaboration with product development, marketing, sales, and other departments within the organization.
This lifts the traditional role of the frontline agents from passively reading answers from scripts and answering customers’ questions, to being active participants in other aspects of the organization’s growth. According to this Harvard Business Review article: “Today leaders are going further by endowing teams with even greater responsibility for leveraging data. The teams essentially serve as product managers dedicated to continually improving end-to-end customer interactions.” https://hbr.org/2022/03/customer-experience-in-the-age-of-ai
For customer facing services such as healthcare, retail, e-commerce, insurance, banking, it is more pressing and more important to be a few steps ahead, to plan ahead. Since their AI technology is relatively more mature, leaders need to plan what to do with their CX human workforce, soon to be freed up by AI.
“The most mature companies tend to operate in digital-native sectors like ecommerce, taxi aggregation, and over-the-top (OTT) media services. In more traditional B2C sectors, such as banking, telecommunications, and insurance, some organizations have reached levels three and four of the maturity scale, with the most advanced players beginning to push towards level five. These businesses are using AI and technology to support proactive and personalized customer engagement through self-serve tools, revamped apps, new interfaces, dynamic interactive voice response (IVR), and chat. A few leading institutions have reached level four on a five-level scale describing the maturity of a company’s AI-driven customer service.” https://www.mckinsey.com/capabilities/operations/our-insights/the-next-frontier-of-customer-engagement-ai-enabled-customer-service
Now is the time to prepare for the “Great AI Age” by fostering a learning culture within an organization, designing a more human centered workforce and customer experience, planning and executing new ESAT (employee satisfaction) oriented systems and processes that lead to CSAT (customer satisfaction) and Customer Delight, to experience humanity in products and services.
To assess your company’s CX and customer touch points, and to design proactively your next level of customer experience, driven by both AI and human touch, we at ApexCX are dedicated to making you the Apex of your CX, with our combined hundreds of years of CX support experiences in people, technology, process, and methodology.
Please contact us with any CX related questions or needs. Thank you.